PORT CHARLOTTE — Unable to move from her bathroom floor, Debra Tyler didn’t have much time.

Every minute mattered. And if her husband hadn’t found her at their home in Venice suffering from a stroke involving a blood clot, she said she could have died.

What’s more, if she were taken to the nearest hospital with a primary stroke center — rather than a comprehensive stroke center at Sarasota Memorial Hospital where she underwent a procedure called a thrombectomy — Tyler said she wouldn’t be alive today.

Soon, patients like Tyler suffering severe strokes in Charlotte County have a better chance of surviving, too.

Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte is opening the first and only comprehensive stroke center in Charlotte County in May, which is also National Stroke Awareness Month.

“Currently, if someone in our community is having a severe stroke, they are transferred outside of the community to a comprehensive stroke center,” said Fawcett spokesperson Alexandria Davis. “Our designation means they will no longer have to be transferred outside of Charlotte County.”

It’s a “really big deal for our community,” Davis said.

And stroke survivor Tyler agreed.

“I will support anything that will save anybody’s life,” Tyler said.

After hearing the news about Fawcett opening a comprehensive stroke center, Tyler called it “incredible” for residents and visitors in Charlotte County.

There are a growing number of comprehensive stroke centers across the state, which stood at 49 on April 1, according to information from the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration.

Before Fawcett came online, the closest hospitals with comprehensive stroke centers were in Sarasota and Lee Counties.

Fawcett’s Davis answered questions from the Sun about this center and why it makes Charlotte County “a safer place to live.”

Q.) Why is this designation such a big deal for the county?

A.) Over three years ago, Fawcett Memorial Hospital recognized a need in this community for a higher level of care in the treatment of stroke. Through investments in the latest technology, to hiring a multidisciplinary team of physicians and staff, we can now offer this higher level of care close to home, without the need to travel outside of Charlotte County. This service will make Charlotte County a safer place to live.

Q.) Will you offer the thrombectomy procedure? Could you share any other procedures you can do soon that you couldn’t previously?

A.) Yes, we will be able to do thrombectomy procedures. We will also be able to do coiling procedures that are done to treat certain types of ruptured and unruptured aneurysms.

Q.) What had to happen to attain it?

A.) This designation reflects the highest level of competence for the treatment of stroke and required a significant increase in resources, staff, and training.

Q.) Roughly how many stroke patients have you sent outside the county to SMH (Sarasota Memorial Hospital) for example in a given year in the past? Would all such patients now be able to be served at Fawcett?

A.) According to state data, in a one-year period, there were over 1,500 ischemic strokes and over 300 hemorrhagic strokes of which 43% required treatment outside of Charlotte County for advanced stroke care (data includes Fawcett’s service area that extends beyond Charlotte County). Many of these patients will now be able to be treated at Fawcett Memorial Hospital with our designation as a comprehensive stroke center.

Q.) Do you have an agreement to take Bayfront patients or DeSoto Memorial patients in need of comprehensive stroke treatment so they won’t have to go to Sarastota Memorial or further away also?

A.) We will work with all area facilities, to ensure our community members have immediate access to these services if needed. Our dedicated emergency medical services providers are aware we will begin providing this service and will partner in the care of these patients.

Q.) How many doctors and nurses will work in the comprehensive stroke center?

A.) We currently have three neuro-interventional trained physicians that have joined our medical staff. Neurosurgeon, Douglas Hershkowitz, MD, is our program’s medical director. All specialty nurses and interventional radiology technicians have been trained in advanced stroke care. A dedicated neurology team, to include a neurohospitalist, will provide 24-hour coverage.

Q.) How is the center designed? Is it a full wing of the hospital, or is it within the current layout?

A.) We invested over $2 million in our new interventional radiology suite that is equipped with the latest technology used to identify blockages or malformations in blood vessels.

We use state-of-the art biplane imaging, a digital X-ray technology that uses two mounted rotating cameras, one on each side of you, to take simultaneous pictures. The cameras move front to back and side to side and produce an image quality that is capable of showing detailed vessel and soft tissue anatomy.

The two sets of images are brought together on a computer screen to form a three-dimensional portrait to aid in the treatment and diagnosis of a stroke. Post care for these patients is an extension of the care we already provide and the patient will be placed in the appropriate level of care.

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COUNTY Number of hospitals with comprehensive stroke centers
Alachua 2
Broward 8
Charlotte 1
Clay 1
Collier 3
Duval 3
Escambia 1
Hillsborough 3
Lee 1
Leon 1
Marion 1
Miami-Dade 7
Orange 2
Osceola 1
Palm Beach 6
Pasco 1
Pinellas 3
Polk 1
Sarasota 1
St. Lucie 1
Volusia 1

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